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Part of USS Challenger: Hide and Seek and USS Higgs: Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek – 7

USS Higgs NCC-79830
March 2401
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Bridge to Captain. We’re two minutes out.

Fleet Captain Thomas Forrester had found the four-hour journey to the Daylos System interminable. Their attempts to contact the Higgs met with silence, leaving Tom’s mind to fill the information void with speculation and he couldn’t help but reach for the worst possible scenarios. The more time passed, the more he feared they wouldn’t find the crew the crew, and his best friend, alive. 

Tom didn’t have the luxury of letting that pessimism show in front of the crew. He needed to exude confidence, even if he didn’t feel it. It was a well-practised act that he’d honed during his years in command. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in the abilities of Captain Matheson and her crew, but the odds were stacked firmly against them.

Standing in the middle of his ready room, studying his reflection in a holographic mirror, Tom took a deep breath. It was his idea to send the Higgs on this mission to Galadkail Manor, knowing the science vessel was ill-equipped to deal with any Jem’Hadar or Been ships they might encounter. But with the Challenger tied up evacuating a colony, and the rest of the Fourth Fleet stretched thin across the Deneb Sector, he’d had no alternative. 

No alternative. Those words did nothing to lessen his guilt, which physically manifested as a tightness in his chest.

Tom straightened his back and squared his shoulders, giving the hem of his uniform jacket a sharp tug downwards. With one last deep breath, he dismissed the mirror and strode confidently onto the Challenger’s bridge. “Report.”

“We’re approaching the Dalyos System, sir,” Lieutenant da Costa responded from the helm, 

Captain Rix relinquished the centre seat, allowing Tom to assume command. A glance at the small LCARS display built into his armrest confirmed da Costa’s report. To his left, Lieutenant Commander Egan sat looking as apprehensive as Tom felt, his right leg bouncing nervously.

“Slow to impulse,” Tom ordered. The immense Odyssey-class starship dropped out of warp on the edge of the Daylos system, not daring to venture any further until they could better ascertain what awaited them. Tom glanced to his right as he casually crossed his legs. “Commander Carerra, any sign of the Higgs?”

The Challenger’s powerful sensors provided the Chief Science Officer with a wide array of data, which she studied thoroughly. “Sí,” she finally announced triumphantly. “Adrift near the Daylos star. Bearing zero-one-one mark two-nine-six.”

Everyone’s eyes turned to the viewscreen as Carerra transferred the sensor image to the main viewscreen. Relief washed over Tom when he saw the ship in one piece, but that relief was fleeting. Her hull carried the scars of combat; black scorch marks dotted her saucer section, there was a visible hole on deck two, and her nacelles were dark, but she was in one piece. “Lifesigns?”

“I’m detecting sixty-three lifesigns,” Carerra replied.

A stunned silence briefly fell over the bridge before Captain Rix leaned in and muttered, “There were ninety-one souls on board when she left Farpoint.”

Twenty-eight dead. That was almost a third of the people on the Higgs. Were those all crewmembers, or did that include some of the engineers they were carrying to Galadkail Manor? And what about Mitchell? Was he one of the twenty-eight? Tom hated that his mind turned quickly to his best friend, but he couldn’t help it. He thought he’d lost Mitchell once and, by some cosmic miracle, managed to get him back; he couldn’t lose him a second time. “Hail them, Mister Calderwood.”

“No response, sir,” The Englishman replied. “Their comms are offline.”

That wasn’t a surprise given the appearance of the Higgs. “Any sign of the Jem’Hadar?”

Carerra swiped one sensor display away and called up another, manipulating the holographic displays like a virtuoso, “I’m picking up debris comprised of materials consistent with Jem’Hadar ship construction, but judging by its mass, this debris is from only one Jem’Hadar fighter.”

“The Higgs reported being pursued by three ships,” Rix reminded the Captain, though Tom hardly needed reminding.

Tom knew they were thinking the same thing; this could be a trap. There were two Jem’Hadar fighters unaccounted for, and the possibility that reinforcements had arrived since they’d received the Higgs call for help. The damaged Higgs could be the bait. “Any sign of other ships in the area?”

“None, sir,” Carerra reported after a few more seconds.

That meant little. There were plenty of places enemy ships could hide to avoid detection, but Tom had a duty to those left alive on the Higgs. “Have Dalton launch the Cernan and begin a search of the system. If enemy ships are waiting to spring a trap, I want to flush them out first.”

With the Cernan already crewed, it took less than thirty seconds for her to detach from the mothership and leave the safety of her cradle at the aft end of the Challenger’s secondary hull. An indicator on the holographic display projected from Rix’s console flashed green. “The Cernan’s clear, sir.”

“Sound red alert,” The Challenger had been at red alert for days, ever since she entered the Deneb Sector, and Tom knew only too well how easy it was to let your guard down. Sounding the red alert klaxon again made sure everyone was on their toes. “Lay in a course for the Higgs and engage at full impulse, Mister da Costa.”

The Challenger’s main impulse engines fired, pushing her deeper into the Daylos system. As she edged ever closer to the Higgs, the Challenger’s advanced sensors searched for signs of enemy ships. Commanders Carerra and ch’Tavar were performing a thorough analysis of the incoming data. Everyone was on the edge of their seat, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Anything?” Tom asked as the Odyssey-class starship came to a stop off the Higgs’ starboard bow.

Commander ch’Tavar shook his head. “I’m not detecting indications of hostile vessels in the area, sir.” Career confirmed his analysis seconds later.

“Very well,” Tom pushed himself to his feet. “Prepare to deploy engineering teams to the Higgs,” Tom was grateful that Captain Rix didn’t try any talk him out of beaming over. Rix understood that Tom couldn’t sit on the sidelines this time. “Have Doctor Young and Commander Nybor meet me in the transporter room.” He started towards the turbolift, “Commander Wescott, you’re with me.”

Unable to contain himself, Lieutenant Commander Egan shot out of his seat and closed the distance between him and Tom in two long strides. “Sir, I’d like to come with you.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Commander,” Tom fully understood Egan’s desire to join the away team, his need to discover if his loved one was still alive, but if the worst had happened then Tom believed Egan would be better hearing it from him upon his return to the Challenger. “Once we’ve secured the Higgs-”

Egan didn’t let him finish. “Please,” he pleaded quietly.

“Alright,” Tom eventually agreed begrudgingly, “join the team.”


The away team materialised on the bridge of the Higgs, lit only by sporadically flickering LCARS displays, minutes later. They were greeted by half a dozen hand phasers being pointed at them. The people holding them looked tired and tense, a dangerous combination. 

“Thank god,” Mitchell sighed as he lowered his phaser. The officer of the USS Higgs visibly relaxed and followed Mitchell’s example, lowering their phasers too. 

That same sense of relief he felt earlier, hit Tom again at the sight of his best friend. The urge to close the distance between them and wrap his arms around his best friend was powerful, but he managed to maintain his composure as he dropped his arms. Once again that feeling of relief was short-lived.

“Where’s Ana?”

Tom glanced around the faces on the bridge, but Egan was right; Captain Matheson was absent. There were plenty of reasons for this, but he could hear the worry in Egan’s voice and shared his concern.

Despite the dim lighting on the bridge, it was clear from the look on their faces that the news was not good. Mitchell stepped forward, “I’m sorry.”

Guilt was now joined by sadness and regret, a now familiar cocktail of emotions to the Challenger’s Captain. He quickly pushed all that aside and turned to look at Egan. The Challenger’s counselor was struggling to maintain his composure in front of everyone, but Tom could see the unshed tears that shimmered in the dim light. “I want to see her,” Egan’s voice was thick with emotion.

“Cargo Bay Two,” Mitchell supplied. “Turbolifts are offline. You’ll need to take jeffries tubes.”

Tom placed a hand on Egan’s arm and squeezed gently. “Wescott’ll go with you.”

Egan nodded and allowed himself to be led to the jeffries tube access by Commander Wescott. She was far from the ideal person to comfort Egan, but she was the only other member of the team that Tom could spare so she would have to do for now. 

Tom turned back to the Higgs officers. “Make your report, Commander.”

Mitchell walked them through recent events, from their initial encounter with the Dominion to hiding in the asteroid belt, to flying into the star’s corona and using a solar fusion ejection to destroy two of the three Jem’Hadar fighters. There was something Mitchell wasn’t saying, something that didn’t belong in this official report but Tom didn’t pursue it, there would be time for that later.

That explains the absence of debris from the other two ships, Tom mused silently.

“We’re currently operating on emergency power,” Lieutenant Commander Pezara said. “Lieutenant Armstrong estimates we should have main power restored in the next forty minutes or so.”

Galadkail Manor still needed to receive the parts and engineers, those who’d survived, in the next day or so. “How long until engines are restored?”

“Three hours,” Mitchell replied.

A sigh escaped Tom’s lips. That left them vulnerable for too long. He wanted to get underway before that. “Hopefully with extra hands, we can speed that process. The resources of the Challenger are at your disposal.”

“We’re grateful for whatever assistance you can provide, sir,” Mitchell told him.

Tom could swear he heard someone working under the Ops console tutting as turned to his team. “Commander Nybor, get down to engineering. I want you to liaise with Lieutenant Armstrong on deploying engineering teams from Challenger.”

“Aye, sir,“ The Bajoran engineer nodded. 

Doctor Young had already anticipated Tom’s next order, “I’ll go down to Sickbay and work with Doctor T’Nira on evacuating the most critical patients to the Challenger.” With Tom’s approval, Young followed Nybor into the jeffries tube.

Tom tapped his commbadge, “Forrester to Challenger. The Higgs is secure. What’s your status?”

All clear for the moment,” Captain Rix replied. “No enemy ships on sensors at present. Commander Dalton reports the same.

At least there was a sliver of good news, but he doubted that would last for long. “Understood. Keep me apprised of any changes. Forrester out.”

“What now, sir?” 

The question came from a young Trill Ensign who was kneeling beside the Ops console, assisting the officer working underneath it. “Now,” Tom replied, “we make the Higgs operational and deliver these parts to Galadkail, Ensign…”

“Jora Edal, sir,” She replied. “Will we have to take the Higgs into combat again?” 

Tom shook his head. “No, the Challenger and Cernan will join the fray and repel any attack that comes. The Higgs will hang back and provide whatever support you can to upgrade the planet’s orbital defences.”

“Do you think we can defeat the Dominion again?” Edal asked.

I don’t know, Tom thought, though that wasn’t the answer those present needed to hear. 

“Hell yes, I do,” Tom told them with that well-practised confident act. “We’re going to send those Dominion bastards back through the wormhole with their tails tucked between their legs, just like last time.”